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Liberal Iranian
Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Friday, November 07, 2008
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Here is a comment I left on Paul Krugman's post, "The monster years". It hasn't appeared there yet, and I wonder if the moderator will find it "on-topic and not abusive". So here it goes:

Mr. Krugman,

I read your post with shameful quiet a few times. I was saddened by your de-humanizing tone and insensitive idea but having read many of your public writings at least I was not surprised. However, I was astonished to see not even a single commenter call you on the cruelty and senselessness of your words.

To demonize the people we don't like or disagree with is the way of hatemongers. When done systematically, its logical conclusion throughout history has been banishing the citizens from their society, putting them away in jail en masse, and ultimately the killing of millions of people. Some of your commenters have already begun on this frightening path. One even calls Ronald Reagan, whose legacy is seen by many an inspired freedom fighter around the world as facing down the biggest tyranny of modern times, in your hateful terms.

Such strong terms must be reserved for the very worst of situations, or else they risk losing any useful meaning. Even then, one must be careful in using them. Even Hitler or Saddam Hussein had a human dimension. For you to de-humanize the likes of Karl Rove and Cheney, however much you dislike or disagree with them, while at this very moment youngsters are hanged and women are stoned to death in my homeland, is beyond any reason. If Tom DeLay is a monster, then what is Kim Jung Il?

That you use the occasion of Obama's win, supposedly a victory for hope and tolerance, to put forward such an intolerant idea only adds to the irony. It perhaps shows your own inner demons. I hope that you reconsider these shameful words. Otherwise, the shame will forever remain on you.

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Monday, November 03, 2008
President Obama?
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With Obama leading in almost all national and state polls, he seems set to be the next President of the Unites States. For a man whose middle name is the same as Saddam Hussein's last, with mixed racial and ethnic background, and who was virtually unknown at the beginning of his campaign, this is a great moment. It is an historic moment for America as a whole. The world looks at him favourably and so his presidency will be welcome internationally more than John McCain's. The Economist, a rational, analytical magazine and an advocate of liberal values (some of you may know them as neo-liberal or libertarian values, but let's not quibble over the name) has just endorsed him (with some reservations); a significant step for a journal that supported Bush and the war in Iraq.

I know and can guess some of you are also very excited about Obama. If and when he wins, I will be happy with you -- but I have come to the conclusion that Obama, taken at his own words, will be an overall set-back to free life in America and the principles that underpin it. As America has historically been the torch-bearer of freedoms in the world, this would have negative effects for liberties in the world in general, though over a longer time period. With the current economic situation and international resurgence of anti-west, anti-liberal powers, this could even turn into a disaster. I know some of you disagree with me on this statement and on the reasons for it, but at this point I feel I should let them known -- at least for future reference.

The reasons are long and I try to limit the list. In brief, Obama's world view seems to feed from a deeply held conviction about the political and economic organization of the society, and more importantly, the role of government in it that is essentially socialist. Now, of course, he is not a Socialist, and his advisors are probably wiser than thinking flat-out socialist programs are either good or viable. But given the economic situation, and the fact that the Democrats will likely control both houses of Congress, I believe he will have a great chance and an open hand to infuse whatever programs he or the Congress shall draft with this world view. And in politics and economic policy, the spirit and overall design of a program is what ultimately matters the most, much more than the original intentions or specific problems originally meant to be solved.

For instance, he believes "we must not only reward wealth, but the workers who create that wealth," as he just said again in his crowd-packed rally in Cincinnati, Ohio. That sounds good, but it is also the textbook example of a core idea leading to "socialism". It is, in fact, the basis of Marx's theory of economic value, the "surplus value". He also believes we must "spread the wealth around" (this is what started the Joe-the-Plumber Act) because income inequality has deepened. That is also fine at first sight. The tax system already does that to some extent, especially in its current progressive form. The question is, how else? How can a president, the government, spread the wealth around? One can think of changing the tax system to do so. Milton Friedman suggested replacing the welfare system with a negative-tax system. But is that what Obama intends to do? I don't believe so, not least because that proposal is an essentially libertarian idea, designed to further limit the extent of government. He also constantly riles against "economic theories" that did not work, the "trickle-down effect", etc. He doesn't mention their names, but these "economic theories" are the free-market theories. In opposition stand "socialist" economic theories, with the opposite emphasis, namely the "bottom-up effect" that he openly advocates.

On the issue of powers of government, he comes out as a somewhat authoritarian figure. The most memorable quote of the first debate for me was Obama's "No U.S. soldier ever dies in vain because they're carrying out the missions of their commander in chief." That sounds inspiring and grand, like Obama's many other phrases, but it places the value of a soldier's (read a citizen's) effort, not in its intrinsic truth or the broader mission, but in his following the Leader's commands. Couple that with his belief in "community organization for actual coalition of powers" and his view that the constitution's constraints to "negative liberties" are a tragedy of the "court focused" civil rights movement, for which we are "still paying the price", etc. (this is his radio interview of 2001 when he was a state legislator) and we are almost at the full picture. It is this: we must throw away our current, free-market, economic theories, start from the bottom up, spread the wealth around, reward the workers who create the wealth, expand our negative concepts of freedoms to positive rights to be provided by the government, and coalition the power by organizing the communities (the masses) to carry out the missions of the commander. In these hysteric economic conditions programs based on these principles will very likely become deeply entrenched and won't easily go away, just as the Great Depression led to the New Deal, of which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac descended to shake the financial markets 70 years later.

So why did the Economist, a journal definitely not supportive of socialism, support Obama? Simple: because John McCain ran a placid, unfocused, unconvincing campaign. In contrast, Obama has consistently cloaked his campaign on a single, focused slogan: "change". The Economist Leader article was remarkably thin on actual analysis of the content of the ideas put forward by the candidates. One plus they counted for Obama was this: "It would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein"!! I was left speechless by this wishful thinking. Examples to the contrary abound, but just as a sample, how difficult was it to kill, imprison or exile many mullah's -- not only fellow muslims -- with longer names full of saints' names in Iran's Islamic republic?

Maybe nothing bad will happen. Maybe. But it is distressing to see the comeback of, and a "change" laden with, bad ideas.

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